Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flash Gordon Signal Pistol (Marx / 1935 / U.S. / 5 x 7 inches)

There are only really two jobs open to a guy with a name like Flash Gordon: Stripper and Space Hero. Happily, ol' Flash chose the latter, and the universe became a much safer place.

When Flash Gordon was created in the 1930s, it was inevitable that a flood of space toys would follow. One of the best was the Flash Gordon Signal Gun. Looking like a rocket that blasted straight out of the character's comic strip, the Signal Gun is big, heavy, and loud. In short, it's pretty much a perfect toy gun.

I've always loved how the designers at Marx managed to fit so many curves and swoops into the toy, from the fin on the back to smoothly arcing handle to the blob-like body that is often affectionately referred to as... well... ahem... a Martian boob. I'll let y'all figure that one out for yourself. 

The gun came in three colors: mint green, fire-engine red, and a purplish grey that a friend of mine insists is "periwinkle." Having never owned the huge box of Crayola crayons that might have a shade known as periwinkle, I'll just take his word for it. It certainly sounds better than "purplish grey." In terms of scarcity, the green and red are the most common -- this is fine with me, since the green is my favorite. When buying one, try to find an example with as much of an intact decal as possible. They're almost always worn off to some extent, so you'll have to judge for yourself how much is enough.

The signal pistol featured a siren mechanism inside its pressed steel body. Pulling the trigger caused the gun to wail like a banshee while firing a shower of sparks.

This gun stands as perhaps my luckiest eBay win ever. Allow me to be blunt for a moment: Even in slightly rough condition, this is not an inexpensive toy. It's highly desirable and none too common. So when I saw it sitting on eBay with three hours to go, no bids, and a starting price in the double digits, I naturally assumed that a number of collectors had simply armed their sniping software and were waiting until the last minute before driving the price into the orbit of Mongo. 

I was on the way out to a friend's birthday party. It was a Saturday night and the local pool hall was calling our names. But before I left, just for the heck of it, I set my own sniping software to place an extremely low, softball kind of bid. I didn't think anything would come of it, I just wanted a hand in the game. Then I went to the party and forgot all about it.

Until about three hours later, when I suddenly remembered the auction. I realized it must have ended, and I was curious as to what the toy had sold for. I didn't think I'd won the auction, but I liked to track prices. By that point, it was well past midnight on the east coast, so I called up a friend on the other side of the country and asked him to jump onto eBay. "I only want to know the final price," I said. "I'm guessing it was maybe double my bid."

My friend was silent.

"What? More than double? Geez... that gun really popped!" (Get it? Popped? But seriously, I probably really said that.)

My friend was still silent. Then I heard a sort of gurgling noise, the kind that people make when they've lost the ability to form syllables but still desperately want to convey an important message.

"What, did it triple? A new record? Madonna's tap dancing on your table? Fourteen penguins just materialized inside your fireplace? Your microwave is speaking in tongues? C'mon, spit it out!"

"Dude... you won the toy."

And then it was my turn to start making strange noises. It just didn't seem possible. It didn't even cost me my maximum bid. Truly, a score to end all scores. Which is why today, years later, every time I look over at my shelf and see that Flash Gordon gun, I still find myself blubbering and drooling just a bit.


  1. I love your site brother. I just want all these toys but they aren't really toys...they are works of art.

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying the site.

    I know what you mean, they really are works of art. But... they're still toys! And that's what makes them so cool. They're like bowls from ancient Greece... They're put in museums and treated with care and held up as iconic representations of a bygone era. But they're still just bowls, and if you really wanted to, you could eat your Lucky Charms out of them.

    That's why I play with my toys. Carefully, and for only a short time, but I do like to take down the robots and pop in some batteries and just have fun watching the great actions. And yes, every once in a while, I'll grab a ray gun and take a shot or two at some invisible alien invaders. (You know they're out there, I know they're out there, and until the Government realizes they're out there, me and my trusty disintegrator are the only things standing in the way of oblivion!)

    Honestly, if these weren't toys, if they were, say, prop replicas or sculptures or something, I probably wouldn't be interested. It's the inherent... um... toyness that makes them so great. To me, anyway.

    I've talked to a lot of collectors about this... it's really a topic of conversation worth exploring deeper. If I can get my brain together, maybe I'll write something about it and then open up the floor to discussion.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. ...and you groan about my puns?

  4. I have become not only tolerant of your puns, I'd go so far as to say I've learned to embrace them. It's safe to say I no longer find them punishing.

    Thank you and goodnight.

  5. Nice story, I love it when an ebay score goes your way, doesn't happen often.

  6. Wonderful pinch off ebay and I'm loving those photos!

  7. Thanks. The photos are getting better. Moving from the Canon D7 to the Nikon D60 was a bit like going from a really nice sedan to a mid-level sports car. The new camera's way more responsive, and I need to be a little more careful with how I handle it. I don't need as much light, the colors sometimes feel a little blown out, and it's capable of a much narrower depth of field, meaning that my macro shots are sometimes just a bit too macro. But I'm getting a handle on things; it's certainly fun experimenting.

  8. Hi ya doc. Have a collection of 200-300 ray guns, and 50's space helmets. I Would like to share. Do you know of anyone like a museum in the Los Angeles area that that might want to borrow them for a while?

  9. I think you should seriously write a book about your ebay experiences! They out of this world.. yet they create that warm fuzzy feeling inside when hearing them :)
    Hope you have many more!



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